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Be a sport

What is happening now on Indian TV is not a bad thing at all. It might teach a lesson or two to those who run Indian cricket -- too much of a good thing can sometimes backfire.

india Updated: Jul 03, 2006 01:01 IST

The anti-cricket brigade in India is celebrating the much-trumpeted findings of a sports TV channel that their ratings for World Cup football in Germany has far outstripped that of their rival channel which is telecasting India’s rather dismal tour of the West Indies. There are some fairly obvious reasons for this trend that, to me however, looks like a one-off phenomenon. First and foremost, the timings of the two events are in stark contrast. The WC in the group stages had matches being telecast at 6.30 pm (prime time) and then at 12.30 am which meant that many could stay awake at least till half-time of the second match. Watching cricket from the West Indies has always posed a problem for Indian fans. The matches start at 7.30 pm and often go past 3.30 am This situation will be more dire during the World Cup cricket to be staged in the Caribbean for the first time from next March.

With all matches slated to be day/night affairs, the starts will be at midnight or later. It will take a very hardy fan to be able to stay up through the night and into the time of day when he normally gets ready to leave for office. One can therefore expect that viewership figures not just in India but the whole of Asia -- the region that drives cricket revenue as all know by now -- to be pretty low during the World Cup.

Certainly, daily newspapers will be at a huge disadvantage during cricket’s mega-event. The other big factor weighing in favour of WC football this time around is the low standard of cricket being played by both the West Indies and India. This was true during the ODI series as well, where India were trounced 4-1. Sachin Tendulkar’s absence -- apart from his ubiquitous presence in the ad breaks that football coverage is mercifully free of -- also has to be factored in. But the football has been entertaining with lots of goals and excitement and with the media -- TV and print -- going the whole hog in its run-up, the Indian public has been swept away in a wave of soccer mania.

Perhaps, if the Indian bowlers had got that elusive last wicket in the first Test and if the fourth day’s play had not been washed out in the second, more interest would have been generated. It helps, of course, that WC football comes around every four years while cricket is played and telecast all year round.

Ironically, the channel which has bagged the football rights this time was the pioneering 24-hours sports channel in India and for years enjoyed a monopoly when it came to Indian cricket, till its place was usurped by a bunch of upstart channels. While all these channels have always made a beeline for the telecast rights to Indian cricket, there are lessons to be learnt from the current scenario.

What is happening now on Indian TV is not a bad thing at all. It might teach a lesson or two to those who run Indian cricket -- too much of a good thing can sometimes backfire.